Feature Article - May 2019
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Aiming for Versatility

Trends in Multipurpose Facilities

By Deborah L. Vence


He said that it's "No big surprise, but gyms during 'dark hours' are being used for pickleball, badminton and group exercise classes. Group exercise rooms are no longer specialized. They can accommodate many different class sizes and types in one area. Even traditional meeting/community rooms are being programmed as classrooms of all types and party facilities."

"Similarly, the same holds true of aquatic facilities," Sprague said. "Competitive pools, which are historically very low on the cost-recovery totem pole, are now being viewed as multi-use in nature. Slides, climbing walls, raised areas in the center for aqua-aerobics, and floatables are a few elements that are finding their way into competitive venues to get more activity into the environment. Designers are creating individual bodies of water within leisure pools that can be used for learn-to-swim, sport pools, recreational swim and exercise/therapy."

Kevin Armstrong, AIA, LEED AP, Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, Denver, said that "The trend for multipurpose spaces has been growing for a while, bringing functional fitness into the traditional recreation environment. It started in the open fitness areas of recreation facilities and is making its way more and more into the group exercises spaces."

For example, Armstrong's company is completing a new community recreation center in Southlake, Texas, that will have a modular functional training rig within a small fitness studio, allowing the room to be more flexible, providing both traditional group fitness classes and functional fitness offerings.

"We are studying more and more concepts that bring in interactive and immersive fitness," Armstrong continued.

Also, "We are seeing the multipurpose nature of our centers move beyond physical health and exercise toward total wellness. Discussions regarding wellness and mindfulness are ever-increasing in the programming requests from recreation departments, community groups and city leaders. We have seen a desire to bring awareness to healthy eating and nutrition through teaching kitchens and community gardens," he said.

"Additionally, mental health and counseling spaces are more and more integrated into our projects," he added. "We are finding that the recreation center is more and more recognized as one of the cornerstones of the communities we work providing a broader and broader reach of services."

Common Elements

Strategy is a key ingredient to successful multipurpose facility design.

"There are so many different types of multipurpose facilities that can focus on different levels of community— athletics, recreation, wellness. Organizations need to understand their needs and goals before they start selecting specific types of spaces," McKenna said.

"With a sound strategy in place, communities and institutions can then really create beautiful, cost-effective buildings that drive value for their users and translate to health and wellness outcomes," she said.

Sherrard noted that "The spaces in-between the typical 'active' recreation program elements are just as important to focus on. Every square foot of a building comes with a cost and should be designed to create engagement or provide a desired experience. We see these spaces evolving into hybrid social spaces to foster community, social connectedness, to be mindful, play table tennis, to do your homework, have a smoothie, catch up on the news, etc."

Another common element seen more and more in multipurpose design is "aquatics," Springs said.

"We are seeing increasing demand for aquatic recreation for all types, lap swim (fitness), recreational water (kid parties and learn-to-swim) and therapeutic programming (driven by the older crowd)," he said.

Why is there more demand for this?

"We're seeing seniors … baby boomers, who are requesting that," he said, adding that it can be a challenge for departments because the water tends to be warmer and certain depths are needed to do water aerobics, for example.

"A rapidly growing space type is 'maker-spaces,'" Springs said. "Creativity is demanding more of spaces than traditional arts & crafts rooms and pottery. These spaces can include wood-shop tools, metal-shop, 3-D printing, embroidery, music-making and so on. Technology continues to change the way we do everything, including being creative."

Meanwhile, Sprague said "Pickleball taking over in the 'dark hours' of traditional gym time is a recurrent theme.

"In fieldhouses," he said, "new flooring systems are being used where users can use both skates and inline skates on synthetic hockey rinks, as well as play a variety of sports, such as tennis and soccer, on the infield of an indoor competitive track."

As far as what the most important elements are, much of a space's ability to accommodate multiple uses is dependent upon choosing flooring material that offers the best chance of success with many different kinds of activities.

"In a competitive indoor sport scenario, the ability to play off wall surfaces, and have a play area that meets allowances in size requirements, is also of key importance," Sprague said. "Divider nets that can subdivide a space into smaller compartments [are] also important, as well as providing a safe environment for non-compatible uses."

Armstrong said that "Common within all our multipurpose areas is the need to be flexible with quick conversion from one use to another. Maximizing program opportunities is conducted through a variety of facets":

  • Making sure the layout is appropriate to the potential uses.
  • Providing effective storage that is right-sized with a throughput that allows for the easy flow of users taking out and putting back equipment.
  • Using the right types of materials and equipment to correlate to the intended uses of the space.